Machine-Readable Cataloging

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The MARC format is since the 1960s from the Library of Congress in Washington, DC developed

MARC ( MA chine- R eadable C ataloging) is a bibliographic data format . It was developed in the USA in 1966 . Numerous different versions followed over the years, of which the MARC 21 version is mainly used by libraries worldwide. MARC 21 is a general format that can be read and processed by a wide variety of applications. The main purpose is to transfer bibliographic data between libraries.

MARC provides the protocol by which computers can exchange bibliographic information with one another. Its data elements form the basis for most of the library catalogs used today . UNIMARC and MARC 21 seem to be particularly important at the moment. The common authority file (GND) works, for example, with the exchange format MARC-21-Authority.


There are numerous versions of the MARC format today. Many of them have been developed by major libraries for their use and are limited geographically in their application, such as in Norway in Oslo developed version NORMARC in use. The internationally most important version by far is MARC 21.

  • MARC 21 was developed in 1999 as a harmonized version of its predecessors, primarily USMARC, CANMARC and UKMARC.
  • USMARC: USA MARC version , now obsolete.
  • CAN / MARC: MARC version for Canada , now obsolete.
  • (UNIMARC uni versal Ma chine R eadable C ataloging) created by the IFLA 1977
  • AUSMARC: Australia version of MARC , published by the National Library of Australia 1973; USMARC adopted in 1991
  • BIBSYS-MARC: in use by all Norwegian University Libraries, the Norwegian National Library , etc.
  • CMARC: MARC version for the People's Republic of China , based on UNIMARC
  • DANMARC: MARC version for Denmark , based on MARC21
  • INTERMARC was designed in 1975 as a general exchange format for Western Europe. The French-speaking countries France, Belgium and Switzerland were the main participants in the development. In fact, it was only used at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF). INTERMARC has been cataloging there since 1975. Deliveries of data from the BnF are made in INTERMARC or after a conversion carried out by the BnF in UNIMARC.
  • NORMARC was developed at Oslo University Library from 1971 and is still in use in Norway today.
  • IDSMARC was developed in 1997 by the Informationsverbund Deutschschweiz as a USMARC derivative, meanwhile it has been enriched with MARC 21 elements. The maintenance and publication of this MARC version is still part of the association's area of ​​responsibility today.
  • UKMARC was developed by the British Library in 1968 as a cataloging format to produce the British National Bibliography . UKMARC differed from USMARC in a number of details. In June 2004 the British Library switched from UKMARC to MARC 21 as part of the introduction of an integrated library system . UKMARC is no longer being developed, information about UKMARC and the latest version of this legacy standard is available on the British Library website.


A department of the Library of Congress, the Network Development and MARC Standards Office, is responsible for developing the MARC format . Changes to the MARC 21 format are proposed by the MARC Steering Group . This consists of one representative each from the Library of Congress, the Canadian National Library , the British Library and the German National Library . The MARC Advisory Committee , which was formed in 2013 from 22 people from various institutions, has an advisory role to the working group . The Library of Congress operates an information forum for current information, such as changes. Format changes are usually published every six months as a MARC 21 update and can be used without restrictions for 60 days from the date of publication.


The department of the Library of Congress responsible for the card catalog around 1910
Before the automation and development of MARC, the Library of Congress card catalog was the storage medium for the library's title records

Prehistory to 1965

After the Library of Congress (LC) began researching ways of using automation technology in internal workflows as early as the late 1950s, a study on the subject funded by the Council on Library Resources (CLR) was published in 1963 . As suggested in the study, a working group was set up with the task of designing and ultimately implementing the future automation of cataloging and research. A study also funded by the CLR and belonging to the prehistory of MARC appeared in 1965. It examined the possibility of converting the data contained on the catalog cards of the LC into a form that can be read by machines. Its intended purpose was primarily the generation of bibliographic products by computers. The results of the study were discussed at a conference at the LC in January 1965, attended by librarians, representatives of the state and the private sector, research scientists and institutions. The parties involved agreed that the new machine-readable recordings should be developed as a cross-library standard at the LC and should contain additional data beyond the data of the previous LC catalog cards. With a view to the upcoming requirements, LC employees analyzed the data to be cataloged and published a corresponding report in June 1965. After another conference in December 1965, the CLR approved the LC funds to carry out a corresponding pilot project. The aim of the project was to test the feasibility and the usefulness of the distribution of machine-readable catalog data by the LC to other libraries. The name of the project was MARC, an acronym for machine-readable cataloging .

The MARC pilot project and MARC I from 1966 to 1968

At the beginning of the project, the LC searched for participating libraries and finally selected 16 suitable libraries. In addition, processes and programs were developed to convert , maintain and distribute the MARC data . Programs were created for the participating libraries that made it possible to use the data provided. In February 1966 a meeting of the participants took place at the LC, at which the LC informed about the MARC project and its planned course. It was decided to limit the title recordings to book material. The schedule provided for the project version of the MARC format (later referred to as version MARC I ) to be completed within three months and the necessary processes and programs to be developed within eight months. In fact, the first data distribution took place in October 1966, when a test magnetic tape was sent out. The weekly data distribution began in November. In the following months, the library programs were freed from errors or rewritten in close cooperation over the telephone, and the production processes for correct title recordings were improved. The project was originally too short and only scheduled until June 1967. In order to produce satisfactory results for the future, it had to be extended until June 1968. The final report was published that year. At the end of the project, the LC had delivered around 50,000 MARC I title recordings of English-language books to the participating libraries.

The development of MARC II from 1967 to 1968

Due to the success of the MARC pilot project, the planning and implementation of a fully functional production system started before its end, which should enable the permanent distribution of the catalog data to the 20 participating libraries. Already in the course of the pilot project it was intended to be able to replace the test format MARC I with a productive successor version (later realized as MARC II ) with the help of the expected experience . The new version MARC II was influenced not only by the collected evaluations of the participating libraries, but also by the decision of the British National Bibliography (BNB) to start its own sister project under the name UK / MARC Pilot Project . Since other libraries also expressed interest, the LC planned to create not only a format for the distribution of the LC's recordings to libraries, but a general, international format for the exchange of bibliographic information between cataloging libraries. Despite the initial restriction to books, the basic idea behind the implementation was to be able to record title data of all media forms (such as books, magazines, maps, music, articles, etc.) with MARC, on storage media that, in contrast to the previous catalog cards of machines can be read and processed. The three components of a MARC data set were firstly the empty structure, secondly the tags, indicators and subfields that describe the respective recorded data and make it identifiable, and thirdly the data itself (such as author, title, etc.). The process of defining all the elements necessary to describe books took place over a long period of time with the participation of numerous cataloging librarians. In addition to the MARC format, a character coding for the title recordings was also specified. In December 1967 a conference took place at the LC, in which the participants made groundbreaking decisions about the progress of the automated processing of bibliographic data and especially the MARC format.

Example data set in MARC21-XML format ( GND set of the work My Catalonia by George Orwell )

The MARC Distribution Service from 1969

From June 1968 to March 1969, MARC was further developed and tested. Before the start of the paid MARC Distribution Service in March 1969, the LC published an introduction to MARC and a test magnetic tape with MARC catalogs, both of which were intended for libraries interested in the Distribution Service. Operations began in March 1969 with the English-language monographs recorded at the LC. Every week around 1000 new recordings were sent on magnetic tape. The first edition of the MARC Manuals appeared in the same year . In 1970 MARC formats for series titles and maps were published, in 1971 for films and 1973 for manuscripts. In 1975 the database already contained around 605,000 titles, including films, series titles, foreign-language literature and more. The MARC catalogs could be bought from libraries.

See also


Web links


  1. UNIMARC formats and related documentation (, accessed December 9, 2014)
  2. INTERMARC format and UNIMARC format , accessed December 8, 2014.
  3. NORMARC ( Memento of the original from November 15, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. , accessed December 8, 2014. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. UKMARC Manual , accessed December 8, 2014.
  5. Network Development and MARC Standards Office , accessed December 4, 2019.
  6. ^ MARC Advisory Committee , accessed December 4, 2019.
  7. ^ MARC forum , accessed on December 4, 2019.
  8. MARC21 Home - News and Announcements - Format Documentation
  9. Gilbert W. King et al. a .: Automation and the Library of Congress. A Survey Sponsered by the Council on Library Resources, Inc. , Library of Congress, Washington 1963.
  10. ^ Lawrence F. Buckland: The Recording of Library of Congress Bibliographical Data in Machine Form. A Report Prepared for the Council on Library Resources, Inc. , Council on Library Resources Inc., Washington 1965.
  11. ^ Henriette D. Avram, John F. Knapp, Lucia J. Rather: The MARC II Format. A Communications Format for Bibliographic Data , Library of Congress (Information Systems Office), Washington 1968.
  12. ^ Henriette Avram: MARC, its history and implications , Washington 1975, p. 3 f.
  13. ^ Henriette Avram: The MARC Pilot Project. Final Report on a Project Sponsored by the Council on Library Resources, Inc. , Library of Congress, Washington 1968.
  14. Henriette Avram: MARC, its history and implications , Washington 1975, pp. 5-8.
  15. ^ Henriette Avram: MARC, its history and implications , Washington 1975, p. 6 f.
  16. A link to this data set in MARC21 XML format can be found here: GND 4820555-2 , accessed on December 8, 2014.
  17. ^ MARC Development Office: Books. A MARC format. Specifications for Magnetic Tapes Containing Catalog Records for Books , 5th Edition, Library of Congress, Washington 1972 (originally titled Subscriber's Guide to the MARC Distribution Service in 1968 ).
  18. ^ Information Systems Office: MARC Manuals Used by the Library of Congress , American Library Association, Chicago 1969.
  19. ^ Henriette Avram: MARC, its history and implications , Washington 1975, p. 9 f.